How we investigate complaints about MSPs

The standards of behaviour expected of an MSP are set out in their Code of Conduct. The Code is drafted by officials and approved by the Scottish Parliament. 

You can complain about the conduct of individual MSPs. Investigations into complaints about MSPs are carried out in confidence.

What can we investigate? Toggle accordion

You can complain to us if you believe an MSP has not followed the Code of Conduct. For example, you can complain if an MSP fails to:

  • register a financial interest that might affect how they debate or vote in Parliament. This might relate to payment from another job, a loan, shares held in a company or property they own
  • register information about election expenditure
  • declare that they might gain something for themselves when discussing and voting on a subject in Parliament

We can investigate if you believe an MSP has been paid by someone (or been given a reward) to put forward a certain view.  

The Parliament can ask us to investigate any other concern about an MSP’s conduct.

What can’t we investigate? Toggle accordion

We can’t investigate complaints about an MSPs conduct:

  • relating to their private and family life
  • when expressing their political views (as a member of a political party or organisation) or
  • taking a democratic decision in Parliament.

We can’t investigate complaints about the Presiding Officer. 

There are some types of misconduct detailed in the Code that other people investigate. If we can’t help, we’ll let you know who can and, with your permission, forward your complaint to them.

How do I complain? Toggle accordion

Complete and submit our online complaint form. Alternatively, you can download the complaint form and post it to us. 

What should I include in my complaint? Toggle accordion

Our complaint form will ask you for:

  • the name of the MSP you are complaining about
  • a description of what you’re complaining about, including any date(s) and the details of any witnesses
  • any evidence or documents that support your complaint
  • your name, address and telephone number.

Stage 1 - Assessing your complaint Toggle accordion

We will acknowledge receipt of your complaint. Your complaint will be logged to our case management system. Normally, we will inform the MSP that we have received a complaint about them.

We will review your complaint and decide whether it we can investigate. There are three tests. Is your complaint?

  1. Relevant. Is it about the conduct of an MSP when carrying out their parliamentary duties? Is it a type of conduct that we can investigate?
  2. Correct. Is it in writing and signed? Does it identify you and the MSP? Does it give the facts /evidence? Has it been made within one-year of the event or of you finding out about the problem?
  3. Substantial. Does it appear that there is sufficient evidence to justify further investigation?

This stage should take no longer than two months.

If the Commissioner decides we can’t investigate your complaint, we’ll write to you explaining why. We’ll also inform the MSP involved. 

Stage 2 - Investigating your complaint Toggle accordion

If your complaint is ‘admissible’ we’ll progress to a full investigation. 

We will write to the MSP you have complained about and ask them to provide their response to the complaint. We’ll let the MSP know you name, unless there are good reasons to withhold it. We will not disclose the personal details of third parties. We may also write to you for further information.

We may need to interview witnesses. Interviews are conducted informally – although they will be recorded. It may be necessary to interview you. This does not happen in all cases as you may have already provided all the details we need. If you are interviewed, you can bring along someone to support you.

This stage can take up to six months, or longer if the case is complicated. If this is the case, we’ll let you know.

Stage 3 - Decision Toggle accordion

The Commissioner will prepare a confidential report describing her investigation and giving her opinion on whether the MSP(s) breached the Code. If the Commissioner considers that there has been a breach, the MSP involved will be given an opportunity to make comments on the draft report. 

We will send the report to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee of the Scottish Parliament. We’ll inform you and the MSP involved. The Commissioner will not publish the report or make any public comment.

Where the Commissioner finds the Code was not breached, the Committee will normally note the report. Alternatively, the Committee may request further investigation or they may decide not to accept the Commissioner’s findings.

Where the Commissioner finds there has been a breach of the Code, the Committee will consider the report in full. This will initially be done in private. The Committee will invite the MSP to submit representations, which will also be considered in private.  The Committee may also decide to ask the Commissioner to conduct further investigations.  The Committee’s decision on whether or not to accept the Commissioner’s finding of a breach of the Code will be announced in public.  The Committee may then recommend a penalty to the Scottish Parliament.